4 Investigates discovers extravagant perks in UNM administrators' contracts | KOB 4
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4 Investigates discovers extravagant perks in UNM administrators' contracts

Chris Ramirez
October 22, 2018 06:07 AM

Missed budget projections, lingering debt and low game attendance have all contributed to serious financial troubles at the University of New Mexico Athletics Department. Months before UNM administrators head to the New Mexico Legislature to ask for additional funding, key lawmakers are already warning anything is free game for scrutiny, including the high salaries and many perks UNM Athletics administrators and coaches receive.

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Earlier this year, on UNM Athletics Director Eddie Nunez’s recommendation, the UNM Board of Regents voted to eliminate men’s soccer, beach volleyball and the entire ski team. Nunez cited funding troubles and a scathing report that showed UNM Athletics was not complying with federal gender equality laws. In Nunez’s first sit-down interview with a reporter since that controversial decision, KOB 4 Investigator Chris Ramirez asked if he understood how deeply wounded many in the community felt by his decision.

“One thing I've realized since day one is that Lobo fans are very passionate about their sports,” Nunez said. “They are passionate about the Lobos and I knew I wanted to exhaust every resource possible to see if there was anything we can do to before getting to this decision.”

Since taking the job less than a year ago, Nunez explained he has saved $700,000 a year by hiring new employees at lower pay rates and freezing positions. He added that he’s modernized and improved accounting practices in his department to better track money flow. But despite his efforts, the athletics budget is still in the red and he’s hoping New Mexico’s lawmakers will increase his funding when they return to the Roundhouse in January.

“I think there has to be a collective approach to higher education,” Nunez said. “Right now, 26 percent of our budget comes from state support, institutional support and student fees. The average in our conference is around 45 percent. Other institutions in our state are higher than 50 percent.”

After years of reducing higher education budgets, members of the NM Legislature have publicly stated there is an appetite to increase funding for UNM Athletics. But Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told KOB 4 Investigates, that she plans to take a “fine toothed comb” to the UNM Athletics budget before determining what additional funding looks like, if any.

“We are going to dive into these numbers very closely,” Rep. Lundstrom said. “The questions I am going to ask are about compensation packages. I want to know what benefits these coaches and the athletic director have. I want to know how much over their base pay they are receiving of taxpayers' dollars.”

UNM’s Athletics administrators and coaches are among the highest paid state employees. While Nunez has made cuts to programs to save dollars, he hasn’t made any cuts that would personally affect his own personal finances or the personal finances of his staff. The high salaries and many benefits that UNM Athletics administrators and coaches are entitled to by their employment contracts have remained untouched.

“When you hear the Athletics Director talk consistently about ‘this is about my student-athletes and I want to help my athletes,’ but at the end of the day, you see compensation packages that are unreasonable and questionable,” Rep. Lundstrom said.

KOB 4 Investigates reviewed every employment contract for UNM’s Athletic administrators and coaches and found several salaries above $300,000 per year with a variety of 13 different types of benefits ranging from free-use vehicles to media pay, promotional pay, incentive bonuses, season tickets to games, country club memberships, retention bonuses, free spouse travel to games and in one case a relocation expense totaling nearly $20,000.

“I am a supporter of incentives because to me, it incentivizes people to do something. If they achieve it, some great things are happening,” Nunez explained.

Nunez said the variety of perks – some that equal nearly $1 million dollars in compensation packages, help recruit and retain quality administrators and coaches in an industry where other collegiate athletic departments are paying far more. Nunez calls the high salaries and many perks, “the industry standard.” While many of the current contracts were negotiated before his arrival to UNM, he has vowed to take a deeper look into what kind of benefits are negotiated into future employment contracts.

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Chris Ramirez

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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